Review: To Tree (Brown Paper Box Co.)

| January 15, 2012
Lance Newton as Julian Fisher in Brown Paper Box Co's "To Tree" by Aaron Golden (photo credit: Eric Phillips)       
To Tree 

Written by Aaron Golden 
Directed by M. William Panek
at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
thru Jan 29  |  tickets: $15-$20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review


A man’s arboreal transformation leaves much to ponder


Christopher Hart (Pete Claypool) and Lance Newton (Julian Fisher) in Brown Paper Box Co's "To Tree" by Aaron Golden (photo credit: Eric Phillips)

Brown Paper Box Co.  presents
To Tree

Review by J.H. Palmer

In the opening scene of Aaron Golden’s original piece, To Tree, Julian Fisher (Lance Newton) appears on a sparse stage and begins to slowly and deliberately undress, one piece of clothing at a time, each carefully folded and stacked in a pile before he removes the next. He gets down to his boxers, sticks his thumbs in the elastic waistband for a moment before looking out into the audience (who laugh uncomfortably), and thinks better of it. He walks to center stage, where he literally plants his feet in a fold in the Astroturf that represents the outdoors, where he remains for the duration of the play.

Lance Newton as Julian Fisher in Brown Paper Box Co's "To Tree" by Aaron Golden (photo credit: Eric Phillips)Scene two introduces us to Peter Claypool (Christopher Hart), a former journalism classmate of Julian’s who comes upon him standing in the dirt clad in only his boxers, and asks him what he is doing. Julian has tired of his “almost indescribable disgust and disillusionment with humanity,” is “done promoting our species,” and has decided to become a tree. Peter is incredulous, pointing out the impossibility of Julian’s planned metamorphosis, and poking fun at him with sophomoric name calling and teasing him about Katie, Peter’s fiancée, who Julian once had a crush on, and perhaps still does.

The next scene takes place two months later, when Peter returns to interview Julian for an article, further delving into his reasons for deciding to become a tree, and by then Julian has begun to grow a tree trunk that begins at his feet and goes up to his knees. He is surrounded by garbage that has been dropped near him by passersby, and when he speaks, has a habit of keeping his eyes closed, further isolating him from the human world.

In scene four, a year into his metamorphosis, Julian’s wooden trunk has grown to his waist, and the story starts to get more interesting: his true motivations for wanting to become a tree are finally revealed when Peter does some investigative work. What follows is an exploration of guilt, and how Julian has chosen to process it. In the final scene, Julian has become wooden up to his neck, and Peter leans against him and casually eats an apple in a scene that made me think – in an absurd way, of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.”

Christopher Hart as Pete Claypool in Brown Paper Box Co's "To Tree" by Aaron Golden (photo credit: Eric Phillips)

This is an absurdist play, one that relies almost entirely on dialogue, and is sparsely staged. Peter becomes more likeable and interesting as the play unfolds, and the story becomes more believable the further we travel into it. I wondered at Newton’s ability to stand in one place for 80 minutes; by the end he is visibly swaying, his eyes entirely closed. It’s like watching someone pay penance by wearing a hair shirt, which is essentially what Julian has chosen to do. This piece is thought provoking, absurd, and focuses largely the inner life of one man. I considered the fact that I, like Julian, had been sitting in one place the entire time. Guilt and redemption are represented through the metaphor of Julian’s transformation, leaving one to ponder the meaning of it all.

Rating: ★★★

To Tree continues through January 29th at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $15 for Thursdays, $20 for Fridays-Sundays, and can be purchased at BrownPaperTickets. More info at (Running time: 80 minutes without intermission)

Lance Newton (Julian Fisher) and Christopher Hart (Pete Claypool) in Brown Paper Box Co's "To Tree" by Aaron Golden (photo credit: Eric Phillips)

All photos by Eric Phillips




Christopher Hart (Peter); Lance Newton (Julian)

behind the scenes

M. William Panek* (director);  Ian James Anthony* (set design); Eric Phillips (lighting, photos); Michelle Kritselis* (dramaturg); James Riley (original score); Charlie Sheets (poster design)

* denotes Brown Paper Box company members


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Category: 2012 Reviews, Brown Paper Box Co, Heartland Studio Theatre, J.H. Palmer, New Work, World Premier

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